The White Ribbon is a difficult watch, but a worthwhile one. For a start it moves at a slothlike pace, and the dialogue is very subtle, a couple of times I was well into the next scene before it occured to me what was actually being discussed. However, it is a testiment to how well the film is cast and acted that this dialogue is also so believable. The film is set just before the first World War in a small rural village in Germany, and essentially every single person from the top to the bottom of this intensely stratified society is unhappy. This unhappiness is inescapable, it generates a tension which permeates the film and what this does very well is makes you realise that we as viewers have to deal with this tension for the length of the film, the characters live with it every day. What this tension also does is turn everyone into terrible assholes, I mean really really awful assholes, and all the folks who are not assholes are sort of asshole enablers, because they just tolerate the assholes. The fact that most of the characters have tender moments, punctuated by extreme assholery is demonstrative of their condition, it is the only way they can conceive of dealing with their problems. In the face of ubiquitous assholery the default human response is to get mad, but we are shown very early on that failing to repress this response has pretty terrible consequences, so how to release that tension? Well if your entire framework is built around dealing with your issues by acting like an asshole then it is logical that you take the persuit of assholing to the furthest extreme you can, in essence you radicalise. This is not simply an exploration of the seeds of fascism sown in a troubled pre-war German society, this is more than that, it is a timely reminder that if you place a person in a situation where they have no hope, they will cling to what ever they can find, and what ever they can find is usually not that nice at all.
The White Ribbon